Baseball is complicated yet beautiful. The peak of human performance pitted against the peak of human performance. Being good at baseball takes impeccable skill, determination, and patience. Most importantly, it takes time. 95% of baseball players take a few years to find their stride and produce.
Ozzie Albies isn’t 95% of baseball players.
The Braves second baseman brings far more than his fashionable chains and clubhouse antics to the aptly named Baby Braves. Albies has a unique ability to work every pitch around the zone and drive it for discernibly good contact; from both sides of the plate, for that matter.
The Braves haven’t seen a reliable switch-hitting threat since the mid-90s to early 2010s in the form of a power-hitting third baseman. What was his name again? Chippy something?
2017: The Year of Ozzie
Anyway, Ozzie broke into the league late in 2017 and showed more than a little bit of promise, finishing with a .286/.354/.456 slash line along with 6 HR and 28 RBIs in 57 games.
His ability to crush the ball all over the zone and fly across the base paths cemented his spot in the starting nine for the years to come. 2017 was a showcase for Braves fans; a way to say “hey, look what I can do.” The potential of one of the best players from Curacao since our very own Andruw Jones was shining brighter than the glare off his chains, and that potential stuck well into the beginning of 2018.
2018: A Year of Ups and Downs
Let’s turn back the clock a bit. The day is March 29th, 2018. The year of the East started on the most exciting note possible. Markakis sent us home 1-0 with a walk-off bomb off Hector Neris. Braves country EXPLODED, and Atlanta got the first win of their division-winning season.
You remember. How couldn’t you? Either way, let’s see it again.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2018
Chills. Literal chills. I miss Markakis.
Anyways, Ozzie wasted no time picking up right where he left off. He electrified baseball before the All-star Break, punishing hitters from both sides of the plate and solidifying his case for not only Rookie of the Year, but possibly MVP. Don’t believe me? Well, the numbers speak for themselves.
First thing's first: Ozzie Albies' 1st inning ranks #MLB:
1st – 14 runs
1st – 19 hits
1st – 6 home runs
1st – 11 extra-base hits
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) May 17, 2018
Leading up to July, it looked like he wasn’t going to cool off. Albies finished the first half with a .281 batting average and .834 OPS along with 20 HR, 55 RBI, and 9 SB. He solidified himself as a legitimate threat in baseball and cemented his place as the starting second baseman in the All-Star Game.
Then the All-Star Game ended. The second half started, and something…happened.
We saw Albies’ production take a nosedive. He stopped seeing the ball and was having trouble just making contact. His line to end ’18 stood at a forgettable .226/.282/.342 with four homers and 17 RBIs. The fire that was Ozzie Albies was slowly being extinguished, as pitchers were fed the book on him. There was even talk of having him drop his switch-hitter attribute and focusing on one side of the plate.
He didn’t. He was tenacious and hungry for improvement.
So what happened?
For most, a drop to 8th in the lineup would feel like a dig. I’m sure it did to Atlanta fans and even Ozzie at first.
It wasn’t a punishment, though. At the very least, I saw it as a way to tune up his game.
Placing him 8th in the lineup allowed him to get more of those off-speed pitches that were plaguing him, hitting before the pitcher’s spot. The more off-speed one is exposed to, the quicker they learn.
Now, the change didn’t happen immediately. As stated earlier, his stats didn’t exactly go up. But, as we see now, the drop in the lineup and ability to hit a full arsenal of pitches, rather than the fastball he crushes so well, ultimately improved his plate discipline and allowed him to form back into the player we saw in the first half of 2018, and even better.
2019: The Return
Here we are – 2019. The Braves are 6.5 up in the east, looking to repeat their 2018 success.
How’s Ozzie doing? Well, he’s DEFINITELY not the same second-half hitter we saw last year.
Albies’ time in the eight-hole proved beneficial for him. You can see it in his swing; his hands are level, he’s waiting on pitches instead of swinging wildly and has his leg kick under control, keeping his lower half centered. That time in the eight-hole also changed his thought process, as he has a better understanding of how pitchers are going to pitch to him.
Ozzie worked on his approach profusely following the disappointing second half.
And it’s paying off.
OZZIE ALBIES ORDERS A TRIPLE-DECKER pic.twitter.com/ud5Nvja7yD
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) August 7, 2019
The pop in his bat and the command at the plate are back. Ozzie is back.
Our electrifying second baseman is slashing .301/.354/.510 with 18 HR and 64 RBIs. Since the All-Star break (27 games), he’s batting .333 with a .947 OPS. There have been more shots to the gap and over the fence. This is a more centered Albies and, most importantly, a much more confident baseball player.
The Braves are nearing the final quarter of their season, and Ozzie has only gotten better. At this rate, he’s making a serious case for the best second baseman in baseball. Oh, and we signed him to a seven-year contract extension this year. Chop on.
Maybe it is because of his chain. Get the shirt here! Remember, every order from now until baseball season is over will receive a free SportsTalkATL Koozie!